Why we need to boost US-Asia trade

Home to nearly 60 percent of global GDP, some of the world's fastest-growing economies, half the world's population, and an expanding middle class, the Asia-Pacific region offers great opportunities for U.S. firms.

The Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) is made up of 10 dynamic countries. With a combined population of more than 620 million and a cumulative GDP of $2.4 trillion, ASEAN represents one of the world's most important markets for U.S. exports. In 2013 alone, the U.S. exported $79 billion to the 10 ASEAN countries, which support 281,000 American jobs.

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U.S. Secretary of Commerce Penny Pritzker speaks May 13, 2014 in Washington.
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U.S. Secretary of Commerce Penny Pritzker speaks May 13, 2014 in Washington.

U.S. companies have also made significant investments in ASEAN, which reached nearly $190 billion in 2012. That is more than U.S. investment in all of the BRIC countries (Brazil, Russia, India, China) combined. With more than $1 trillion in infrastructure investment needed in ASEAN through 2020, we expect these opportunities to grow.

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This week, a delegation led by the US-ASEAN Business Council with participation of the U.S. Department of Commerce is traveling to Vietnam and the Philippines to demonstrate the shared commitment of the U.S. government and private sector to ASEAN. While in each country, the council and the department will participate in many of the same meetings and work to advance a number of shared goals and principles, including increasing mutually-beneficial two-way trade and investment and fostering a business climate that creates prosperity for all.

The ASEAN region is richly diverse — culturally, economically and politically. Across ASEAN, there are significant commercial opportunities, ranging from infrastructure development to health care to oil and gas. ASEAN consumers purchase nearly twice as many American products per capita as the average Chinese consumer and nearly nine times more than the average Indian consumer. There is also tremendous potential for inroads in areas such as financial services and clean energy.

The U.S.-ASEAN Business Council and the Department of Commerce will promote mutually-beneficial two-way trade and investment that will support U.S. companies and the ASEAN region, while also positioning the U.S. as an attractive market for fast-growing ASEAN businesses as their countries develop. And, we will seek to connect some of America's leading CEOs with their next business opportunity in the ASEAN region, building on the successes that have already been achieved in these markets.

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Just this past December, General Electric signed a $94 million contract with a Vietnamese construction firm to sell 52 wind turbines for a wind farm project in Bac Lieu in the Mekong Delta, a deal the Commerce Department supported. This sale will generate $50 million in U.S. exports and support 245 U.S. jobs. This is just one example of the ways U.S. businesses can generate economic growth while also providing needed goods, services, expertise and solutions to fast-growing ASEAN markets.

Throughout this mission, we will combine efforts to advance shared objectives and outcomes. We will discuss how each country can continue developing a fair and open business climate, and will jointly deliver the message that reducing market access barriers and increasing transparency will lead to long-term and sustained investment.

More broadly, the successful conclusion of the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) is critical to spurring growth in the United States and the throughout the Asia-Pacific region. Four ASEAN countries (Brunei, Malaysia, Singapore, and Vietnam) are now participants in the 12-nation TPP negotiations. The TPP is an ambitious, comprehensive, 21st century agreement that will enable U.S. companies to compete on a level playing-field with our global competitors and set transparent rules of the road reflective of American values.

We have clearly reached the endgame of the negotiations, and now is the time for Congress to pass Trade Promotion Authority to facilitate the successful completion of the agreement.

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We are at an historic moment of opportunity because our economy has become inextricably linked to the Asia-Pacific. More than ever, this dynamic region — its companies, governments and people — want to do business with American firms.

This trip embodies the deep ties between the United States and the Asia-Pacific region. Further expanding this strong partnership will deliver prosperity to millions of people on both sides of the Pacific, creating greater opportunity and enhancing our competitiveness for years to come.

Commentary by Penny Pritzker, the U.S. Commerce Secretary, and Evan G. Greenberg, the chairman and CEO of ACE Group and chairman of the US-ASEAN Business Council. Follow Pritzker on Twitter @commercesec and the US Mission to ASEAN @USMission2ASEAN.